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It’s a very different Cup Day for Ipswich Turf Club this year

Ipswich Events and Entertainment Centre.

Usually at this time of year, Ipswich Turf Club manager Brett Kitching and his team would be run off their feet putting on the city’s biggest social event, the Ipswich Cup race day.

This year’s event – which would have been run on Saturday, 13 June – was called off as the coronavirus pandemic took hold and tough social restrictions came into force.

Despite what looked at the time to be a major financial setback, the proud club has since galloped ahead as the industry and the public embraced crowd-free race days.

“Remarkably, we are very stress free at the moment and there is a real mood of gratitude and excitement at the club,” Mr Kitching said.

“Losing the Ipswich Cup this year was a big deal and disappointing for the club and the city, but we’re very grateful that racing was able to continue.”

As other major sports across the nation paused, the popularity of racing surged.

Operations manager George Musat and sales and events coordinator Megan Drynan.

The club finished track improvements in March and hosted three race meetings in April and May, with another three scheduled for June.

Instead of traditional Ipswich mid-week race days, most meets have been held on Sundays and proven to be highly successful.

“If someone had said in February that the popularity of racing and wagering would be up about 40 per cent in the coming months, they would have been laughed out of town,” Mr Kitching said.

The increase in support for racing has allowed the club to make up the financial gap left by the impact of COVID-19 on its hospitality operations and the cancellation of the Ipswich Cup.

“Kudos to the governing body which has done a great job keeping the funds coming,” he said.

The Ipswich racetrack.

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to maintain the 13 permanent staff we have here and in fact, we’ve been able to put two new staff on.”

The two additional staff – operations manager George Musat and sales and events coordinator Megan Drynan – were hired to help operate the club’s new Events and Entertainment Centre.

The centre was completed as part of a $25 million redevelopment; the biggest investment in the club in more than two decades.

It includes function and raceday spaces including the newly created Grange Lounge and new jockey facilities. The club’s Eyeliner Lounge has been refurbished along with the Thoroughbreds Sports Lounge.

There is also a new family restaurant and cafe, called the Barn, which will eventually operate seven days a week as COVID restrictions ease, as well as a new children’s playground.

One of the function spaces in the new Grange Lounge.

The new facilities are expected to be a major source of income for the club into the future, able to host conferences, weddings and parties.

“We’ve been working to get it ready for when the COVID-19 restrictions lift and we can open it up fully to the community,” he said.

“We’ve already had some bookings and a couple of small conferences this week, which have been held in line with COVID restrictions.”

Mr Kitching said after years of hard work, the finish line for major works at the club was finally in site and he expected remaining works, including an upgrade of T L Cooney Avenue, to be completed by late August.

“There really is a mood of gratitude and excitement about the club. We are grateful that we have been able to come through this period and excited about what is ahead,” he said.

The new sports lounge.

“We know there are many people and businesses in the community suffering. We’re all in this together and the club feels for everyone doing it tough and we really want to wish the community all the best.

“It’s not just about the Ipswich Cup; a lot of events have had to be cancelled because of COVID-19.

“It’s about the whole city getting through this period as best we can and then going forward doing what we can to support events when they return.”

While the Ipswich Cup will not go ahead this year, two races from the meet have been rescheduled to 18 July. They are the Eyeliner Stakes and Gai Waterhouse Classic.

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